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Music and Controversy

By Virginia Darnell. Photo by Win Grant.


Music plays an important role in our worship services today, but it has not always been that way.

John Courtney, First Baptist’s second pastor (1786-1824), loved the great hymns and was editor of at least two hymn books. But during services at FBC, he found that some were paying more attention to the hymnals than to his sermons. His solution was to line out the hymns without using books. (Lining out is a form of a cappella hymn-singing with a leader calling out each line of a hymn as it is to be sung.)

In the archives there are a number of sheets, 3 ¼” x 11”, used during this time with the hymns for the day printed without music. In addition, at the bottom were listings of events for the next week and the following words: “Strangers are cordially invited to remain after the services and meet the pastor.” This also apparently served as the bulletin for the day.

Printed hymnals finally became part of FBC’s worship. The first one was likely Rippon’s Selection, based on Dr. Isaac Watts’ hymnal. It was first published in 1787. That was later replaced by the Virginia Selection of Hymns compiled by Andrew Broaddus. The third hymnal, Winchell’s and Watts’ Selections, was chosen in the mid-1800s.

Musical instruments also made a slow entrance into worship services. To settle this controversial discussion James Thomas loaned the church an organ from his home in 1861. It remained in service until 1867 when a new organ was purchased for the church.

Choirs were not part of FBC’s early services either. The push to organize one produced controversy, but in 1840 a chorister was finally appointed. The controversy was resolved at least partially by his salary being raised by those “favorable to the choir.” A hundred years later the music life of the church was much enriched and strengthened with the addition of primary, junior, intermediate, and young people’s choirs. The chancel choir was organized in 1952, and the first hand bell choir in 1962, with their first performance at Thanksgiving that year.

Hymnals, organs, choirs – all are assumed parts of today’s worship services. But their places have been earned through differing opinions, patience, experiments, and gifts.

Virginia DarnellVirginia came to FBC in 1946 and helped organize the church’s first young couples class and one of the first in the Southern Baptist Convention. She taught singles for 38 years, served on most church committees, was ordained a deacon in 1978, and served as the first woman deacon chair in 1995-96. She is currently Church Historian. Virginia enjoys gardening, painting, cooking, and reading.

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